Every day I find myself saying things like:
“I have no idea what I’m talking about.”
“I’m faking my way through life.”
“I don’t deserve any of this.”
Why do I repeat these self-deprecating phrases on the regular? Because I have impostor syndrome. And if you catch yourself saying similar things or feeling like a fraud, you probably do too.
Impostor syndrome is something that can affect literally anyone, but studies have shown that it is particularly prevalent in women and young people who aren’t sure if they are really equipped to do their job. Obviously, I fit both of the aforementioned demographics and on top of that, I’m a woman of color. I’ve grown up in a world where people still debate whether affirmative action laws should exist and people have actually gone to court claiming that they didn’t get into college because black kids stole their spots.
As a result of these factors I feel constantly paranoid and I’m always wondering if I’m a fraud. Late at night, when my day’s work is done I wonder: Did I really deserve that A+ on my exam or was the professor just being nice? Do I really deserve to have this many followers on LinkedIn? Did I work hard enough to get into Chapel Hill? Did I deserve the internship I just got?
Then, last week, I got a whole perspective change and I realized that my impostor syndrome wasn’t just affecting the way I viewed myself. It was changing the way other people viewed me too.
I was talking to a friend of mine who was having trouble writing a paper. To me, the paper seemed like an easy assignment, but to her, it was impossibly difficult. I tried my best to reassure her and be supportive, but she got angry with me. After I promised her she could get the paper done on time, she replied by saying:
“Not everyone can do an annotated bibliography in 6 hours and not everyone has a 3.7 GPA and not everyone gets fabulous internships, Charise. So don’t tell me what I can do.”
Honestly, this pissed me off. This person was, is, a very close friend of mine (We’ve known each other for half of our lives), but here she was, acting like all my accomplishments were just built into me. Like I was born with a decent GPA and all my papers were written for me.
I knew she meant that I seem to have an easier time with certain things than she did, but I also knew that this friend of mine tended to go to bed early, skip class, and expect life to be easier than it really is. Even though she doesn’t put in as much effort as I do, she still expects to get the same results as me. She too believed that I was successful without needing to try. And chances are, it wasn’t helping that I was constantly implying to her that my success was fraudulent, due to my impostor syndrome.
I realize now that when we share our fears and self-deprecating jokes with people, even the ones we love, it shapes their cognition of you. If you constantly imply to people that your life is a lie or that your success is an accident, eventually they’re going to believe you. And all those nights you stayed up working, and all those parties you skipped, and all those projects you worked on will be forgotten. You’ll be the girl (or guy) who’s just lucky.
So now, I’m kicking all those self-deprecating statements to the curb. It might take me a while to stop feeling like an impostor, but I’m not going to go around shouting my insecurities from the rooftops anymore. I work too hard to erase my own success. And you probably do too.